BETWEEN THE LINES
I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU
Catherine sat out on her balcony late into the night. It had been over a week, and she was hoping Vincent would come by for a visit. With a sigh, she stood and walked to the wall to look out over the city. She missed seeing him, but knew he was probably staying close to Father, helping him through the grief of losing Margaret.
She had just started to walk inside when she heard a sound behind her. She turned around, surprised to see Vincent standing there. He never came this late unless something was wrong.
She walked up to him, and he could read the concern in her eyes. “Catherine, everything is fine. I just came to say hello.”
Catherine smiled with relief. “Good. You had me worried.”
He looked down at the floor. “I can’t stay long...”
“Is it Father? Is he all right?”
Vincent was relieved she understood. “Yes. He’s grieving, but he’ll be better…with time. He pushes me away, but I’ve been trying to stay close, just in case.”
“I was only ten when my mother died, but I did the same thing. It’s like an innate sense that a child has; they can tell when their parent needs time alone or when to stay close. I’m sure Father is finding great comfort in knowing you’re near.” Vincent nodded gratefully, and Catherine touched his arm. “So why did you come here tonight?”
“I...sensed your desire to see me.”
Catherine was horrified; she felt so selfish. “Oh…I am so sorry. I never meant for you to feel the need…to make you have to come and see me. I understand that you’ve been busy...”
With a smile, Vincent interrupted her. “Catherine, I wanted to see you as well, even if it was only for a few minutes.”
Catherine smiled up at him gratefully as she walked towards him and put her arms around him. “I know it’s late and you have to get back, but thanks for coming. I missed you so much.”
She laid her head against his chest. Vincent placed his arms around her and pulled her under his chin. She tightened her embrace as he did.
Vincent moved his head caressingly against hers. “I missed you as well.” With a sigh, he pulled away. “But I do have to get back.”
Catherine pulled away. “I’ll see you soon?”
Vincent nodded, then left as Catherine went back inside.
The next day, Edie and Catherine were sitting in the lunchroom. Catherine had ordered lunch for them, and Edie was hungrily digging into her food.
“Girl, this stuff is great. I thought when you said you’d get lunch today, it was going to be something microwaveable.”
Catherine laughed. “Only the best for you.”
Edie looked at her suspiciously. “Uh, oh! I’ve got a feeling you’ve got a really tough one for me...”
Catherine looked at her innocently. “Who me?!”
Edie rolled her eyes. “What is it? Is it tougher than the Hutterly case?”
Catherine shook her head. “No, it is the Hutterly case. I know it’s impossible! I was wondering if you’re making any headway...”
Edie looked at her, relieved she didn’t have another hard case for her. “Actually, I got a break right before you called me for lunch. It took me three hours to get it. I’m hoping after lunch to dig into the details of the files. You’re lucky Joe let’s me work on your stuff as a priority. I have some people very angry at me right now.”
Catherine grimaced. “Who? Maybe I could talk to them.”
Edie laughed. “Joe’s way ahead of you. He came up and heard Corsey yelling at me for not getting his information, and Joe let him have it.”
Catherine leaned forward with curiousity. Because he was loud and abrasive, Corsey wasn’t well liked, which did nothing to help his attitude. “What’d Joe say?”
“Well, as Corsey’s yelling at me, Joe walks up. He asks Corsey if there’s a problem. Corsey turns angrily to him and says, “Yeah, there is! I gave this incompetent something to look up yesterday afternoon and she still hasn’t gotten to it!”
Catherine moaned and covered her face with her hand. “Oh, no!”
Edie’s smiled. “So Joe’s face gets redder than a tomato, and he gets into Corsey’s face and yells, “Corsey, this is one of the best computer operators we’ve got! I think the incompetent one is you! Just for your information, she’s working on getting Chandler’s case together.”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “Great, Joe makes another friend for me! Then what happened?”
Edie shook her head. “Well, Corsey digs himself in further and asks Joe why your cases always get top priority.” Catherine moaned aloud as she shook her head. She knew at this point Joe had to be at his boiling point, and Edie started to laugh. Joe looks at him and says, “Well, Corsey it’s like this…Chandler is one of our top investigators. She has some of our highest profile cases. Right now, she’s working on the Hutterly case. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s the one that’s been in the headlines every day for the past week! Let me see you’re working on...What is it? Oh, yeah, you have the high school drug bust of two teenagers who had a total of three joints on them. Let me guess...you looked up their names and their parents have unlisted numbers, so you came to our top computer operator to take up her time because it never occurred to you to call the principal and ask for his help!”
Catherine shook her head again. She felt sorry for Corsey. He was young and only trying to prove himself.
Edie continued. “So Corsey blushes as people begin to overhear. He turns to me and apologizes, then heads off to hide at his desk. Joe looks over at me, says what a moron Corsey is, then tells me ‘good work’ and storms away.”
Catherine sighed. “When did this happen?”
“Right before lunch, why?”
Catherine thought for a moment. “Edie, how long will it take to get Corsey his addresses?”
“About five minutes, why?”
“Are you finished with lunch?” Edie nodded so Catherine continued. “Could you look them up for me? I’d like to take them to Corsey. He’s just a kid trying to make a name...”
Edie rolled her eyes in disgust. “Come on, Miss Good Samaritan!”
Catherine followed Edie to her desk. She was interrupted by a phone call, so it slowed her down, and it actually took her seven minutes to get Corsey’s addresses.
Edie printed the information for Corsey as she hung up the phone. “Cat, that was Joe; he wants to see you. Can you give him this file? And here’s Corsey’s stuff.”
Catherine smiled. “Thanks, Edie.”
Catherine left and stopped at Corsey’s desk on the way to Joe’s. “Hi, Derek.”
Corsey looked up and blushed. He was always tongue-tied around beautiful women. “Hi, Miss Chandler.”
Catherine smiled at him. “You can call me Cathy. I have those addresses and phone numbers you needed. Can I offer some advice?”
Derek put his head down and nodded, smart enough to take advice. Catherine tilted her head to make eye contact with him. “When you go and see the parents...don’t be aggressive. Go in there and explain that you understand how hard it is to raise good kids in this day and age. Tell them you know parents like them work hard all day and try to do the best for their kids. Tell them that sometimes kids will stray a little and need to be punished, even if it’s only with community service. Most of them will come around and work with you.”
Derek thought quickly. He had planned on doing just the opposite. He was going to ask these parents why they didn’t know what their kids were doing? Why their kids were hanging out in the schoolyard instead of at home? He realized that Catherine’s way was going to work much better. Catherine stood and watched him as she saw what she’d said sink into his thoughts. He looked up at her gratefully. “Thanks Miss...Cathy!”
Catherine turned and left but threw over her shoulder loudly so people could here. “You’re welcome, Derek. Anytime you need help, you come see me. We’ve all been the new kid at one time or another, trying to prove ourselves.”
Derek watched as people looked at her, then him, and blushed at the truth behind her words. He looked down at the list of addresses and in his mind thanked her over and over.
With a smile, Catherine walked into Joe’s office in answer to his summons.
He smiled, handing her a file. “Got a choice one, Radcliffe.” She glanced at the file, then looked up a question in her eyes. Joe grinned and explained the case. “Wealthy socialite throws himself out a window. Turns out he was poisoned by a loyal servant.”
Catherine laughed. “You mean I finally get a case where the butler did it?”
“Hey, good help’s hard to find...Suspect’s name is Hector Ocala. Cops found the poison in his room. Lab said it was Haitian, just like Hector...”
Catherine raised her eye brows, surprised it was going to be this easy. “Awfully damning...Do we have a motive?”
Joe nodded. “His boss left him fifty thousand dollars in his will.”
“That’ll do…sounds like this one’s open and shut.”
Joe chuckled. “Yeah, well up until an hour ago. Now the public defender claims that Hector Ocala is incapacitated, unable to stand trial.”
Catherine looked confused. “On what grounds?”
“Get this! P.D. says Hector Ocala is some sort of voodoo priest. They say he’s gone into a trance. Go check it out!”
Catherine stood and rolled her eyes in disbelief. Oh, boy. People can come up with all types of excuses, she thought. She would not let Hector Ocala get away with murder using some bogus alibi! She stopped herself as she walked to the door and turned around to look back at him. “Joe, thanks for an easy one.”
Joe nodded. “This Hutterly case is a hard one to crack, isn’t it?” Catherine sighed and nodded. Joe grinned and offered her encouragement. “Just keep at it.”
“I will. Edie’s making some headway. I’m going to head to the tombs and talk to Ocala. I should have this wrapped up by tonight.”
Joe laughed. “Knowing you, it’ll happen in an hour or two.”
Catherine left Joe’s office, grabbed her purse, and headed out.
Catherine walked to the prison where she asked to see Hector Ocala. The officer gave her an odd look, then took her to his cell. Ocala sat with his back to Catherine. He rocked back and forth chanting some unknown words.
The officer told her he’d been like that since he came in. He didn’t eat or sleep or talk. One of the prisoners said it was some kind of voodoo trance. Catherine observed Ocala, who never stopped his chanting. This guy is good, she thought. He was playing this defense well; he had the police convinced. But not Catherine. She needed to prove Hector Ocala was a fake.
She thought about how she could accomplish it. She didn’t want some crazy from off the street. She needed someone with prestige, someone who would be a credible witness for the defense. She called the university and asked if any of the teachers were knowledgeable about voodoo customs. They referred her to a Professor Alexander Ross. She called his secretary who informed Catherine he was between classes and could see her.
She walked into Ross’s office and noticed a man standing up on a chair. “Professor Ross?”
The handsome man looked down at her. “Yes.”
“I’m Catherine Chandler”
He said at the same time, “Chandler. Yes…my secretary said you phoned.”
“Have I caught you at a bad time?”
“No, No not at all…good…sit down. Let me take this.” He referred to her coat and briefcase. He took them and laid them in a nearby chair as he motioned for her to take a seat.
He walked behind his desk and sat down. “So what can I do for you, Catherine Chandler?”
“Well, I’ve been told you’re an authority on voodoo.”
He smiled. “Yeah…Yeah, much to the chagrin of my colleagues in science.”
She smirked at his light joke, then grew serious. “We have a murder suspect in custody. His defense attorneys claim he’s a voodoo priest.”
“Well, if he’s committed a murder, then he’s not a priest. More likely a sorcerer, a boko, a servant of evil. Voodoo is full of dualisms – white magic, black magic – and each has its cult. If you’re inside the cult, then you’re protected. If you are outside, then you are the enemy, and their gods and demons are everywhere. Loa they are called, and they can assume any form: birds, clouds, beasts, and, well…they do possess people,” he supplied.
Catherine nodded. “Scientifically speaking of course.”
He stood and walked to the shelves in his room. “Well, I can explain it in medical terms if you prefer. Voodoo long ago discovered a truth that modern medicine still resists. The mind rules the body.”
“If faith can heal, then fear can paralyze?”
“Or kill. All in your point of view.”
Catherine shook her head. “I don’t know if I believe that.”
While they were talking, Alexander studied her. He saw something inside of her that he couldn’t explain. He needed to keep her close and grabbed a seashell from a shelf and caressed it in his hands. He brought it over and handed it to her. “Here, look at this. What do you see?”
She answered simply, “A shell.”
“No, it’s a key to the universe, a beacon to the gods.” He waved his hands in front of her. “You see, in voodoo, nothing is as it appears to be.”
She played with the shell, caressing it with her hands. “Really.”
“Is this intrinsically any less powerful than the sacred images of all the other religions?”
She saw his point and moved to hand him back the shell. “I guess not.”
“No…No you keep it for good luck.” He smiled and took her hand in his, tightly closing the shell into her palm. He looked deeply in her eyes, then broke contact, walked around his desk, and sat back down.
“Oh…look… forgive me. You’ve got to forgive me for carrying on like this about this stuff. I have this bad habit of lecturing all the time, and you didn’t come here for a seminar.”
She smiled. “No, I didn’t. I need to determine if Hector Ocala’s trance is a put-on...a maneuver to avoid prosecution.”
Alexander shook his head. “You see, I couldn’t possibly tell you that without seeing him in person.”
Catherine looked at him hopefully. “Would you be willing to go to the tombs and have a look?”
He nodded, his curiosity aroused. “I was hoping that you would ask. How’d you get here today?”
“I took a taxi.”
Alexander waved his arm. “Well, come on. You can ride with me.”
They walked to the parking lot. Alexander stopped at his car and let her in, then walked to the driver’s side.
After he pulled out onto the road, Catherine turned to him. “Alexander, I really appreciate you taking the time at such short notice.”
“It’s okay. I must say your case has me intrigued.”
Catherine chuckled and sarcastically answered, “A crime is committed and a man creates a bogus defense. That’s not intriguing.”
Alexander would not let her take this lightly. “No, but the fact that he could be in a voodoo trance is.”
Catherine could tell that Alexander believed in what was going on, and she felt bad for making light of it. She wisely decided to keep her opinions to herself since she was not the expert here. She sat thinking about Alexander as he drove, enthralled by his words. He was an enigmatic speaker, and she was fascinated by the things he told her…although she didn’t know how much of it she believed. He was a nice man. She trusted him. He would be a good witness for the defense.
Alexander and Catherine walked into the prison together. The same police officer who had escorted her earlier walked them to Hector’s cell.
Catherine turned to the officer. “How is he?”
The officer shrugged. “The same.”
Alexander observed Hector as he chanted.
Catherine looked curiously at Hector, then up at Alexander. “Do you think he knows we’re here?”
Alexander continued to stare at Hector. “It’s hard to tell.”
The police officer moved forward and yelled to Hector trying to get his attention. Hector sensed evil and paused then turned around. Seeing Catherine, he became enraged. He ran at her, trying to grab her through the bars. She and Alexander stepped back defensively.
Hector called out to her. “Beast…Beast of the night.”
Catherine’s heart pounded wildly. She thought about Vincent and wondered if Hector could tell somehow that they were connected. Alexander guided her away, and they left Hector alone sitting in his cell, still chanting.
Catherine tried to hide her feelings, but wondered aloud. “What’s he saying?”
Alexander hid his surprise, but he answered. “It’s a chant, an invocation against an evil spirit. Most of it, anyway.”
Catherine looked at him curiously. “And the part about the beast?”
“That was a hallucination, a projection of his fear, only to him it was really there. Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think your suspect is for real.”
Alexander was right; this was definitely not what Catherine wanted to hear! “Do you think if you spent some time with him you could break into Hector’s trance?”
Alexander took her hand and rubbed his thumb over it affectionately. “For you, I could try.”
He removed his hand as they walked to the parking lot. Catherine liked him and assumed he was a really nice guy.
When they got to his car, he took her hand again. “Miss Chandler…Cathy...It has been a pleasure to meet you. I won’t let you down. Trust me...”
“Thanks again. If I have any questions...”
Alexander nodded. “Yes, please don’t hesitate to call me...for any reason, whatsoever. I’m here for you…”
That was odd. Nice but odd, Catherine thought as he got into his car. She turned away and hailed a cab for her next appointment.
Alexander left Catherine at the prison. On his drive back to the university, he thought about the moment he’d met her. He could almost see the power surging within her. She was skeptical, but he could also tell she was open to new possibilities. He thought she could be controlled, and if he had the chance, he was going to take it. He had already started the process, giving her that shell, suggesting to her its hidden powers. Her mind was already starting to open to his will.
He was shocked, but pleased, when Hector Ocala saw the beast hidden in her. He, too, had seen it, but was unsure. Hector proved his theory for him. He needed to keep this woman close to him. He wanted to make sure he became indispensable to her. This woman had the power of Baka in her, and he wanted access to it.
In the world Below, a few of the men were sick, and Vincent had worked sentry duty the entire night. He was taking a nap in bed, tossing and turning in the throws of a nightmare.
In his dreams, he was threading his way through a group of people. Nobody noticed him; they were all facing forward looking at something so enthralling they wouldn’t look away. As he got closer to the front of the group, he noticed a casket. Heart pounding, he peered inside the casket. It was Catherine!
His shouts of disbelief woke him from his slumber; he was panting heavily, his heart pounding in fear. He searched through the bond and felt that Catherine was safe and not in any danger. Still, he felt something unusual, and he couldn’t put his finger on what was different. He lay back and thought about the dream. Sometimes in the past, his dreams came true; they were almost like a premonition. He shuddered to think that this was one of them. His heart rate finally slowed, and he drifted back off to sleep again.
On her way back to the office, Catherine decided to interview Lindsey Gates, the girl who was with William Coleman the night he killed himself.
Catherine asked Lindsey if she knew anything about Hector Ocala’s involvement in voodoo. Lindsey told Catherine Hector was a boko, a voodoo sorcerer, and that, even though Hector was his servant, William was terrified of him. William had met Lindsey when he came in to the shop looking for something to protect him from Hector, and he’d begged her to attend the dinner party with him. Catherine informed Lindsey that William was poisoned, but Lindsey insisted he died as a result of a voodoo curse.
Catherine thanked Lindsey for her time and left to go back to the office.
Catherine went to Joe and told him she suspected Hector Ocala’s trance was real. Joe was incredulous that she had bought in to the excuse, and he insisted she go back to the jail and get Hector to talk to her. Admitting to herself that Hector had scared her, she thought about calling Alexander, but took a deep breath and left the office.
Catherine had little reason to worry as she went to the prison; she knew she’d be safe and that she’d be surrounded by officers. She was walked in to find Hector being removed from his cell. She was surprised to hear he was dead and asked the coroner for a copy of the autopsy as soon as it was completed.
She finally got home that night after an exhausting day to find that her apartment had been broken into and trashed. Furniture was tipped over, items strewn about, and her name was spelled out backwards in the blood from a decapitated chicken laying on her table. The most unsettling thing, however, was an image of a lion face on her wall, which had also been painted in chicken’s blood. The image looked frighteningly like Vincent.
“Officer Hopkins, can I help you?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“Bill, its Cathy Chandler. Someone broke into my apartment and trashed the place.”
“You alone there, Cathy?”
“Yeah, there’s no one here but me.”
“You sit tight; I’ll have someone there within fifteen minutes.”
Catherine hung up and walked around the room, carefully avoiding touching anything. Her unusual feelings today had prompted Vincent to plan to see her tonight, and he was on his way when her emotional turmoil upon her arrival home brought him racing to her side.
“Catherine!” He startled her, but she walked out to the balcony. As Vincent held her gently by the arms, he could feel her body quivering. “Are you all right?”
She smiled at him, thankful he was there to comfort her. “I am now.” She turned to look at her room. “Did you see what they did?”
He looked in disbelief at the mess someone created. “Who would have done this?”
Catherine’s brow furrowed. “I was investigating a man who belonged to a voodoo cult. He died this afternoon, but I’m sure it’s related.” She looked at him with concern. “You can’t stay long. The police are on their way.”
Vincent looked at her intently, sensing even stronger now that something was different in her. “Whoever did this is trying to frighten you, to control you with fear.”
She put up a brave front to calm herself. “I’m not afraid.”
He caressed her arms, proud of her. “Good!”
Catherine turned to the look-a-like portrait of Vincent. “The drawing?”
Vincent looked up at the uncanny resemblance of him on her wall. “Yes.”
“What do you think it means?”
Vincent guessed that somebody was playing mind games with Catherine. “It’s a picture of what they’re most afraid of. For them it has power. You must not surrender to it!”
She smiled at him. “I won’t.”
They both heard the approaching sirens. She touched his arm, wanting to show him she was all right. “You better go.”
“Know that I’m near if you need me.”
She walked through her apartment and used her intercom to call down to the doorman. She told him to let the police up to her apartment. Five minutes later, there was a knock on her door.
Catherine let in a barrage of officers and detectives who carefully went over her place looking for clues. Half an hour later, they were still gathering clues when Joe appeared.
Catherine looked up in surprise. “Joe! What are you doing here?”
“Bill Hopkins called me, told me you had some trouble.”
Catherine shrugged and opened her arms and showed him the room. “Someone had a party here...I wasn’t invited.”
Joe looked on as an officer picked up the dead chicken and put it in a bag. Catherine grimaced and Joe shook his head in disgust. “Who the hell sacrifices farm animals at their parties?”
An officer walking by heard Joe’s comment. He stopped and offered his opinion. “People who believe in voodoo sacrifices. Watch your step, Miss!”
Joe looked at him suspiciously. “Yeah, how do you know so much?”
The man grinned. “I grew up in Louisiana. Central Park is tame compared to the kinds of crazy stuff that happens out there.”
The officer left and Joe turned to Catherine. “Don’t listen to him...that guy’s nuts. It was probably just some kids who got in the building.”
Catherine nodded her head. “Yeah, maybe.” She knew it wasn’t kids, but she wasn’t up for an argument.
Joe nodded as the officers began to leave. “You want some help turning over these footstools.” Joe grinned as he pointed at her couch.
She rolled her eyes. “That’s my couch, Joe.”
“Oh! Well, let me help you get some of this stuff back in place.”
Catherine picked up paintings and decorative objects, while Joe and three of the officers put the furniture back into place.
Catherine scrubbed at the offending blood on her walls. She sighed realizing it would probably need to be repainted.
Joe came over and watched her dismay. “Hey, my brother-in-law is a painter. Let me see if he knows of a way to get that stuff off.”
Catherine nodded as she looked at the room. Joe and the other guys had accomplished a lot. She had some odds and ends to pick up, but she could easily do it tomorrow.
She turned to the four men. “Thanks, everyone.”
The three officers left and Joe stood in her doorway. “You gonna be okay alone?”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, see ya in the morning, Radcliffe. Good Party!”
Catherine shook her head smiling ruefully as she pushed him out the door then locked up. She turned to the room and slowly began to shake. The realization of what had occurred came crashing down on her, and she began to cry as her insides quaked with fear. She grabbed her keys and coat and headed to the basement.
As she climbed unsteadily down the ladder, she felt hands reach out for her. She startled until a velvet voice called out, “You’re safe. I’m here.”
Catherine let go of the ladder and was immediately cradled in Vincent’s arms. He turned her, and she buried her face and cried into his shirt. He soothingly ran his hand up and down her back, murmuring words of comfort. Eventually she got herself under control.
She pulled back and looked at him. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I broke down like that.”
Vincent wiped a tear from her cheek. “Because you’ve had a long, stressful day, and you came home to find that your home has been invaded and vile things had been done there.”
Catherine sighed. “I was doing fine…then, when everyone was gone, it just…hit me. And I...I just knew that I needed to see you. I was surprised when you were here so quickly.”
“I’ve been waiting here since I left you. I sensed you may have needed some company.”
She sniffled and gave him a weak smile. “Not just any company, Vincent. I needed to see you.”
He was pleased at her words, but lowered his head and then looked up at her shyly. “Then I’m glad I was here for you.”
She came forward and took his hands in her own. “You were, and I can’t thank you enough.”
Vincent shrugged. “It’s late. You should try to rest.”
“I don’t know if I can…”
“Would it help to know that I’ll be near if you need me?”
“Catherine…I’ll stay here for as long as you need me to…”
Catherine nodded, then turned and headed back up the ladder. Vincent frowned as he watched her ascend. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was definitely different about her. Something inside of her was subtly changing.
Catherine tossed and turned all night as the images of the dead chicken and bloody writings flashed through her mind. She called Alexander the next morning and asked him to come to her apartment. When he arrived, he lied to her and told her the same thing had happened to his place.
She served him coffee, and while she was distracted, he was able to sprinkle some type of powder in her cup. He nonchalantly told her he thought that the trashing of their apartments had probably been done by Ocala’s followers. He said that their problems were not over and that Ocala’s followers would want to avenge his death. She informed him that she would not let them frighten her off the case. He told her they were trying to frighten her to death.
Catherine insisted she would not drop the case. He promised to help her any way that he could ande offered to take her out to dinner that night. She readily agreed.
That day, Catherine visited Hector’s brother, who told her that Hector’s enemies killed William Coleman to get to Hector. He warned her to back off the case or the same thing would happen to her.
Catherine went to work. Her subconscious was starting to work overtime, and fear was creeping its way through her mind.
Vincent poured through Father’s library looking for information on voodoo. Father offered what he knew, wondering why Vincent was suddenly so interested. Vincent told him about the case Catherine was working on and that someone was trying to harm her using fear as their weapon.
“Father, I think I know who may be able to help me…”
“Narcissa is a crazy old woman, Vincent. She lives her own little world…”
“And that world is where I need to find answers. Do you think she’ll remember me, Father?”
“I’m not sure. You haven’t seen her since you were a young boy. I would guess that she wouldn’t forget meeting you. You kind of stand apart from the others,” he said sarcastically.
The two men smiled at his joke.
Father tried to dissuade him. “What kind of information do you hope to gain there?”
“Anything that could help ease Catherine’s mind.”
Father nodded as he grimaced in agreement. “Narcissa has strong beliefs in the occult, and she uses those tools in her daily life. She would be the best one to answer your questions.”
“Then I must leave now…see her as soon as I can.”
“Have a safe journey, son.”
Vincent made the long trek down to where Narcissa stayed. He had to do whatever he could to help Catherine.
Vincent found her in a hidden chamber.
Narcissa greeted him before he could re-introduce himself. “Welcome, Veencent.”
“You remember me?”
“When you were a young boy you would play in the Chamber of the Winds. I remember.”
“Narcissa, I need your help, your knowledge.”
She cackled again. “I am a crazy old woman. Hasn’t Father told you so? How can I help you?”
“I have a friend who’s in danger. Her name is Catherine. She lives in the world Above. Men have broken into her home, shattered her mirrors, defaced her walls. She is afraid it is the work of those who believe in voodoo.”
Narcissa started chanting and could see and understand what Vincent was talking about. She turned to him. “They have placed your friend under a curse.”
Vincent suspected that it was true. He was also disturbed by the likeness of him on the wall. “There was a drawing on the wall?”
Narcissa explained. “The drawing is veve; it is used to summon the demon Baca, the great beast, the devourer. No magic is as great as Baca’s. No magic is as evil!”
Vincent shook his head in disbelief. He didn’t believe, and he thought Catherine didn’t believe in magical powers . “But magic can only touch those who believe in its power.”
Narcissa insistently tried to explain the evil magic. “No! Magic is power, power of the words, of the powder, of the fear that curls in the heart like a black worm.” Narcissa warned him, “Watch your friend, Vincent! Guard her close. The way is dark before her.”
“Narcissa, are you saying that Catherine is in danger and doesn’t know it?”
“I am saying that the mind that is open to suggestions is vulnerable to evil! Evil will slowly inch its way until it takes a hold of the mind.”
Vincent nodded gravely. There was a truth to Narcissa’s words. He had sensed something different in Catherine. Perhaps it was psychological fear worming its way through her body. “What can I do to help her?”
“Stay close.” Narcissa reached out and took his hand. “Go now, help your friend, and tell the Father that I am well and am thankful for the supplies he sends me.”
Vincent cocked his head curiously. “Are they enough? Do you require anything else? Mary said she wished you lived closer to us so that we could help you more.”
Narcissa cackled gleefully. “I have all I need.”
“Then I will leave you. I must get back…to be near Catherine…Thank you, Narcissa.”
“Go with care, Vincent.”
Vincent left and took Narcissa’s words to heart. He would stay nearby, waiting to go to Catherine if she needed him. He walked back up and towards Father’s library.
Father smiled as he walked in. “Vincent. Did you find Narcissa? Is she well?”
Vincent nodded as he sat down. “She looked well, Father.”
Father cocked his head knowingly. “But something she said disturbed you.”
Vincent sighed in confusion. “Perhaps...I’m not sure.”
“Narcissa speaks in riddles. She leaves it up to the listener to decipher what she has said.” Father sighed. “I hesitate to ask, but what did she say?”
“I’m not sure…I think she implied that Catherine is being hypnotized.”
Father snorted cynically. “Hurrumph!”
Vincent shook his head disagreement. “No…I think she could be right...it would explain some odd feelings coming through the bond.”
Father’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “What kind of odd feelings?”
“Uncertainty...distrust…but mostly fear.”
“Well, we’ll just have to see what happens in the future. For the time being, all you can do is keep an eye on her.”
“That’s what Narcissa said.”
“Its good advice, and unfortunately all you can do for now.”
Catherine left work to meet Alexander for dinner. As she pulled away from her parking space, she felt something crawling on her legs. She slammed to a stop and looked down then screeched in horror. In one swift move, she reached down and pulled a snake off her legs, opened the door, threw it to the ground, and watched it slither away. Her heart was racing frantically; she hated snakes and stared at it in disbelief. What was the chance that a snake could get into a car in a cement parking garage in the middle of the city?
She met Alexander and told him about the snake incident. He listened sympathetically and then waited until she was distracted by the waitress before he slipped some more powder into her champagne glass.
He could tell she was upset as they talked about everything that was happening and while they went over Hector’s death. Catherine said the autopsy report showed a massive heart attack. Alexander believed his death was related to a curse cast upon him. She told him she didn’t believe in curses, but she did believe that Hector was afraid.
Alexander told her it didn’t matter; Hector believed in curses. “If you believe magic can kill, then it can.”
Catherine hesitated, afraid to bring it up and draw attention to it, but she had to know. “Alexander, that drawing on the wall of my apartment, the creature...”
“The Beast, La Bete Noir, or Baca as he is sometimes called...a terrible demon that rends men apart and feasts on their flesh.”
Catherine’s mind inadvertently crept towards the things she had seen Vincent do. “Why? I mean the rest of it makes a certain kind of twisted sense, but why that drawing?”
“To make you afraid of it, Catherine, to show you the face of Baca, the demon that will destroy you. But then, if you don’t believe, then no harm can come to you, and there are much nicer things to believe in.”
He reached for her hand to offer comfort. Catherine started feeling sick and Alexander offered to see her home. He dropped her off at her apartment, then continued on to his own home, smiling gratefully that she had started to trust him.
Alexander walked into his home and locked the door behind him. Inside, an altar had been set up. Various items adorned the table, all relating to his belief in the occult.
Catherine had acted like she didn’t believe in voodoo, but deep down she was vulnerable, especially to the beast that lived within her. His curse was starting to work. Fear was creeping in on her, and she was turning to him for help. His plan was working wonderfully.
Lindsey Gates came to his door. She was also under a spell he’d cast.
Lindsey laughed aloud. “So Catherine doesn’t like snakes?”
Alexander nodded and kissed her forehead. “I don’t understand it. Baca lives within her. She should have no fear of these things.”
Lindsey frowned and shook her head distrustfully. “You think Baca lives in an attorney that works for the DA’s office?”
Alexander wondered why she questioned his belief and quickly defended them. “Hector Ocala saw Baca within her as well. He was afraid of her getting to close to him and lashed out.”
“Well, she doesn’t seem to fear Baca.” Lindsey held up a container for him to see. “I wonder if she has a fear of other things.”
Alexander peered inside and could see a huge spider inside of the container. He smiled and waved his arm, allowing Lindsey access to his altar. Together they chanted and Lindsey released the spider onto the picture of Catherine. They would continue their torture of Catherine through fear.
That night, Catherine woke up from a dream to find spiders crawling all over her bed. She threw off the covers and jumped up in horror. She started knocking them off her bed with a pillow, and it wasn’t until they were gone that she realized there was nothing there. She must have had a bad dream. She leaned against her headboard and cried as she felt herself calming down.
Vincent was reading a book when he felt her terror rush through the bond, then slowly subside. Because of the lateness of the hour, he assumed she’d had a nightmare. His thoughts wandered. Twice today she has been in a state of absolute terror. What’s happening to her? What’s going on in her mind?
I must have been dreaming! she thought rationally. She reached for the covers of her bed and gently lifted them off the floor. No spiders lurked in them as she pulled them back to remake the bed. She climbed in and covered up, but could not get back to sleep.
She got out of bed and paced her apartment, flooded with fear that there were more evils lurking in the shadows. She flipped on every light, and her mind told her to do something she hadn’t done since she met Vincent...lock her balcony doors.
Catherine paced for three and a half hours. She thought of going Below to see Vincent. She even threw her coat on and headed to her door, then stopped as her fear consumed her. She hesitated, then took off her coat again.
She began pacing again and continued to think of Vincent, but couldn’t make herself go to see him. Something was preventing her from seeking his help. She wondered why she suddenly distrusted him; she wondered why she feared him. She paced until the light started to break, then she phoned Alexander, waking him from his sleep.
“Alexander, it’s Catherine.”
Alexander sat up, pleased with himself. “What is it, Catherine? Has something happened?”
“Could you please come over this morning? I need to see you!”
“Um...okay. I’ll stop by before my first class.”
An hour later, Catherine answered the door and let Alexander inside.
Catherine smiled weakly at him. “Thanks for coming.”
“It’s all right.”
“I’m sorry. I’m a wreck. I didn’t sleep at all last night. I made some tea. Let me get it.”
Seeing that she’d had a rough night, he told her to relax, that he would bring the tea to her. Hidden from her, he dumped some more powder into her teacup. She drank some of the tea, then Alexander massaged the tenseness from her shoulders. She relaxed enough and promptly fell asleep.
Alexander waited until she was in a deep sleep. He took the cup from her and set it down out of the way. He took both of her hands in his and turned to her and quietly spoke. “Cathy, you must trust me and only me. I’m your friend. I would never hurt you. You must turn to me whenever you are afraid. I will protect you. No one else is your friend. If you have someone you trust, know that they are trying to hurt you. They are trying to get rid of you. If you have someone you love, you must stop loving them. They will turn on you and hurt you. They are trying to take you away from me. Don’t trust them. Keep your shell with you at all times; it will protect you until I can come to you again. Do you understand?”
Catherine’s head nodded imperceptibly, and he smiled. “When you wake, you’ll feel better. You’ll go into work, but you’ll still trust only me. Do you understand?”
Catherine nodded again, and Alexander got up. He reset the clocks in her apartment back twenty five minutes, then sat on the couch next to her and nonchalantly watched as she woke up.
Catherine smiled and said she felt better. She led him to the door where he leaned in and kissed her. She responded to his touch. He left pleased with himself that she was under his control.
Catherine went to work, exhausted from her lack of sleep. The hallucinations she’d had were starting to take their toll.
She went to Joe’s office and told him everything that had happened to her lately. He stared at her in disbelief. He was worried about her, and when he reached out for her, she backed away from him screaming in horror.
In her mind, Joe’s hands were covered with blood and more blood was flowing from files on his desk. She couldn’t understand why he was pretending not to see it. She knew then that she could no longer trust him. She ran from his room and headed to the bathroom where he couldn’t follow her.
She went to the basin in the ladies room and washed her face. She looked up into the mirror and saw her face etched with deep cuts. She knew it couldn’t be true, but her face was back to the way it looked after she had been attacked in the park.
Joe had stared in shock as she ran from his room. He was really worried about her and didn’t know what to do. He called Edie while Catherine was in the bathroom. He knew that she and Catherine were friends, and he hoped she would be able to help convince her to go home and get some sleep.
“Hey, Edie, it’s Joe.”
“Yeah, Joe, whatcha need?”
“Have you seen Cathy today?”
Edie typed furiously while she distractedly answered him. “Um...no. Why?”
“I’m worried about her. Something’s not right. It’s hard to describe. Can you come up and see what I mean?”
Edie was concerned and stopped typing. “What’s she doing?”
“I don’t know! She’s seeing stuff. Snakes in her car and spiders in her bed. I just assumed she’s been worried because of the break-in at her house. You know, just lack of sleep. But just now in my office she stared at my desk with...I don’t know something like...fear in her eyes, like she’s seeing something that’s not there. I stepped closer to her and she screamed at me and ran out of my office.”
Knowing that the behavior was so unlike Catherine, Edie stood up. “You’re kidding me. Where’s she at now?”
“She’s been in the bathroom for over ten minutes.”
“I’ll come right up.”
Joe said it was a good idea, and Catherine accused them of trying to get rid of her. Edie and Joe looked worriedly at one another.
Catherine knew she must appear unstable, so she stopped fighting with them.
Catherine agreed to go home. In her haste to leave, she screamed in terror at a co-worker she bumped into. Embarrassed, she rushed from the room.
Edie turned to Joe. “My God! She’s worse than I thought.”
“Joe, something’s not right.”
“I would follow her, but I don’t want to make things worse.”
“I know. I feel the same way.”
“Maybe we should call someone from her family…”
Joe thought of her father then nodded. “I’ll try to get a hold of her dad, and then tonight on my way home, I’ll go check on her. After that…I just don’t know what more we can do…”
“I need to see Alexander Ross.”
The petite blond student looked at her. “He’s not here, Ma’am. Can I give him a message?”
Catherine ignored her as she stormed into Alexander’s office. “I need to see him, now. I need his help.”
Catherine saw the young girl’s fear. She decided the girl was probably only a freshman and she realized she must be terrifying the poor thing. “I’m sorry. It’s important I see him. Do you have any idea where he is?”
The girls slowly shook her head, afraid Catherine would lash out again.
Catherine went home and walked into her apartment to the ringing of the phone. She ran frantically towards it, thinking it was Alexander.
She grabbed the receiver and shouted into the phone. “Alexander?”
Catherine almost slammed the phone down on hearing her friend’s voice, but decided to listen. “Jenny, what do you want?!”
Jenny furrowed her brow in concern. Catherine was never rude. She tried to make her friend laugh. “You never answered my question...who is Alexander?”
“Why do you care?”
“Hey, Cathy! What’s going on? Are you mad at me? I said I was sorry I missed lunch last week. I had to keep that doctor’s appointment.”
Catherine realized how insane she sounded and fought to take a calming breath. “Sorry, Jen. Why are you calling?”
Jenny couldn’t see Catherine, but she could tell in her voice that she had settled down. “I had a crazy dream about you and I called your work. They said you’d already gone home. Are you okay?”
Catherine held the receiver out and looked at it suspiciously. Is Jenny the one doing this to me? she wondered as she put the receiver back to her ear.
“Cath, Are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m still here. So you had a crazy dream?”
Jenny laughed. “Yeah, remember that horror movie we saw when we were in college? In the dream I had, you starred in that movie, and the gigantic spiders were coming to get you...”
Jenny’s face fell as she heard the receiver slam down. She hung up, then redialed Catherine’s home. Catherine ran from her apartment and flinched as she heard her phone ringing again.
She headed to the elevator. The doors opened and Catherine gasped at the dead people standing inside. Three of them were the men who had attacked her. She saw the wounds Vincent had inflicted on each of them. She saw the boys from the subway train who had been attacked by Jason Walker. Only this time, she believed it was Vincent who killed them. They motioned for her to join them, but she backed away and headed for the stairs.
She ran to see Lindsey Gates at the magic shop. She hoped Lindsey could give her a charm to protect her from the demons that were after her. The shop was locked up and dark inside. Catherine was starting to get frantic at being left alone. It was late and she ran home to wait for Alexander’s call.
Vincent sat in the library reading all the books he could on voodoo. Father had glanced at him curiously throughout the day.
Finally, he could stand it no longer. “Vincent, is Catherine still having her imaginary problems?”
Vincent scowled at him. “Her problems are not imaginary, Father. Someone has gotten to her. They are using fear to control her.”
Father shook his head in disbelief. “Really, Vincent, Narcissa has put ideas into your head...”
Vincent growled a warning and Father looked at him in surprise. “Father, I’m telling you. Something is different in Catherine. It’s like a mist has rolled through her body and dulled her senses. She feels differently; she thinks differently. And yet there are times when I feel she is crying out for help and struggling to make sense of all that is happening around her.”
Worried, Father sat down next to Vincent. “It sounds like she’s hallucinating. Is there a chance she’s being drugged, Vincent?”
Vincent shrugged but a wave of terror swept through his body.
Father watched as his son’s face paled and he gasped. “Vincent, what is it?”
Vincent shook his head. “Horror, fear, desperation...all these emotions are bombarding me. Father, it’s Catherine. Something horrible is going on. I must go to her.”
Father stood and grabbed Vincent’s arm. “Vincent, if she is seeing things, play along with her. Don’t pretend they aren’t there. This will only anger her. Try to be patient and realize that she may say certain things to you she doesn’t mean. I can promise you it’s some type of an outside influence making her act this way.”
Vincent nodded. “Thank you, Father.”
“Why don’t you see if she’ll come Below to see me.”
“I’ll try.” He grabbed his cloak. “I don’t know how late I’ll be.”
Vincent raced from the room and headed to Catherine’s balcony.
Joe caught up to Catherine outside her apartment building. He had worried about her all day, and now she walked passed him like she didn’t see him.
Joe frowned when he had to reach out and grab her arm. “Hey, Radcliffe. Are you okay?”
She spun in fear, hiding her face in her hands before she slowly looked up at him. “I know you. You’re Joe.”
Joe looked at her in surprise and stepped closer. “Yeah, Cathy, that’s right. It’s me, Joe. Are you okay?”
Catherine continued to hide her face, wondering why he couldn’t see the cuts hidden below her hands. “I’m fine.”
Joe’s eyes narrowed, but he only nodded. “You heading up now? Are you home for the night?” Catherine nodded, so Joe continued, “Want me to come up and see you get settled inside safely?”
“No!” she answered. She didn’t know why, but the last thing she wanted was Joe in her apartment.
Joe blanched at her angry refusal; he thought they were friends. “Okay, I understand. Get some sleep, okay? Why don’t you take tomorrow off too?”
Catherine nodded at him distrustfully, then went inside. She walked in and went straight for her mirror. She gasped when she looked at her face and saw that the slashes were still there.
She heard a tap on her balcony window. Although her mind told her it was Vincent, she hesitated and tried to decide if she wanted to go to him. Alexander’s message of trust came to her again, and in fear she grabbed for her seashell. Holding it tightly for protection, she went out to see him.
Deep down, a small part of her was relieved when she saw Vincent, and in her desperation to reach out to him, she screamed out, rubbing her hands on her face. “Look at me! Look at what’s happened!”
Vincent was shocked at how hysterical she was. He couldn’t understand what images her mind was creating. He tried to reassure her. “It’s in your mind. It isn’t real.”
She looked at him in disgust. For a second she had trusted him, yet he was ignoring the deep cuts on her face. Why was he trying to trick her? “Of course it’s real!” She looked at her hands and noticed, for the first time, huge boils covering them. She screamed in anguish, as she frantically rubbed at them. “Oh no! Look at my hands!”
Vincent noticed her holding onto something tightly. He came forward and reached for it, anxious to see what it was. “What is that?”
Catherine snatched her hands away, protecting her shell. “No! My shell!”
Vincent felt her lack of trust. He knew her mind had conjured up some frightening images. He hoped to break the trance she was in. “Let me see the shell.”
Catherine’s delirium made him appear threatening, and she backed away from him. He was hurt by her action. She hadn’t bean afraid of him since the subway slasher, and he thought they were beyond that. He thought she trusted him completely. His mind told him it wasn’t really her fault. She couldn’t help seeing him as a threat, but his heart was breaking.
Vincent pleaded, trying to come closer to her. “You must let me help you!”
Catherine mind finally came to a conclusion as she stared at him accusingly. “You’re doing this to me!”
Vincent was shocked. He backed up a step. “No! I could never hurt you!”
Catherine shook her head, trying to get rid of the images she was seeing. “I don’t know you.”
He appealed to her, “Catherine! It’s Vincent!”
His thoughts raced. What is going on with her? Why is she acting so strange? What are these feelings flowing through the bond? Why doesn’t she trust me?
“You’re one of their demons! You are...you are…I saw your picture...in my room! Stay away! Don’t come any closer!”
Remembering Father’s advice, Vincent walked towards her as she backed away from him. He wanted to get to her, to comfort her, to try to reach the dark place in her mind where she was trapped.
As she backed away yet again, he shouted, trying to reach her, “Catherine!”
Catherine had backed up to the wall. “Stay away! Don’t come any closer!”
Fearing for her life, he bellowed loudly. “Catherine!” She finally quieted, and, in deep anguish for what she was going through, he continued, “You’re my life! Tell me what I can do?”
She looked at the shell and held it tightly in her hand, grateful that it had protected her. She saw how her words affected him and went for the attack. “Don’t you ever come back!”
Vincent had to get her to see reason. “I can’t do…” He tried to come closer.
“I hate you!” Catherine watched as he came to a sudden stop. Filled with the knowledge that she stopped the beast, she repeated her words. “I hate you!” She rejoiced as he backed away yet again. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!” She said it one last time, knowing it was hurting him. She smiled that she had beaten down the beast.
Her words were like a knife driven into his heart. He wondered how he would ever reach her again. He wondered how to help her. Could he leave her long enough to go to Narcissa? He leaned back against the wall, hoping there was some part of Catherine still inside that would find comfort in his words. “Even in this terrible darkness, I’m with you. I’ll never leave you.”
She backed away from him and headed for the door. She looked at him with total distrust and hatred. “You stay away!”
Vincent watched as she ran back inside and picked up the telephone. She clutched the shell tightly in her hand. She didn’t seem to realize that he was still there, and he listened in on her conversation, hoping to hear who she was calling.
He heard her as she begged the person on the other end of the line, “Alexander, please, help me.”
Vincent wondered who Alexander was. Wasn’t that the name of the professor who was helping her? The one she said she trusted?
Catherine listened as Alexander gave her directions, then asked her to repeat them. Vincent felt her go emotionless. He watched as she stared unseeingly and listened to her words. “Yes, Alexander, I’m to prepare myself to meet Baca. Then I’m to come to you.”
Vincent heard her repeat an address as he left and ran to Narcissa. This was well beyond anything he had ever dealt with before, and he needed to know how to reach out to Catherine.
Vincent ran through the tunnels at full speed, then raced into Narcissa’s chamber.
Narcissa stared at the stones and shells in front of her. “You’re back. And your friend is in trouble?”
Vincent looked at her ,still shocked that this woman seemed to know everything. “Yes, she is seeing things that aren’t there, terrifying things. She’s not acting at all like herself. The bond we share is…unfamiliar to me; it’s changed somehow...”
Narcissa shook her head ominously. “I have seen what your friend is going through…it is not good.”
“Please, Narcissa, help me find a way to help her…to reach her.”
Narcissa reached a long nail into the bowl and moved a few of the shells. “It’s the powder. The powder takes away the soul. The Powder!”
Vincent frowned. “A drug?”
Narcissa continued to speak. “The shell opens the door. She clings to it, believes in it. She will die Vincent. She is already dead.” She shrugged with finality.
Cold fear settled in Vincent’s stomach. This explained why Catherine clung to the shell. She thought it was protecting her.
“I must go to her!”
Narcissa shook her head and warned him. “No, the evil one will take away your soul! He has great power!”
Vincent was disgusted. “He preys on weakness. He has no power.”
“You can destroy the shell Vincent, but unless the power in her mind is dead, he will still have control over her. The power must go, then the shell will be only a shell again.” Narcissa offered.
“Thank you, Narcissa,” Vincent called on his way out.
“Go with care, child,” she said to his back.
Narcissa turned to her potions and shells. She poured into the big bowl, liquids from various vials. She stirred it with her long nail and sat unmoving.
Slowly her body began to rock back and forth as she chanted in a low voice a protection spell for Catherine. She called to a greater power to give speed to Vincent.
Catherine prepared herself to go to Alexander. She did everything he instructed her to do, then in a daze slowly made her way to his apartment.
The cab driver kept looking into his rear view mirror, wondering if he should drop the drug addict in his back seat off at the next corner. If it wasn’t for her address, he would’ve, but, as he glanced back, he wondered what a high-class chick was doing dressed like a prostitute. He realized she was not herself and at the red light turned around.
“You all right, lady?”
Catherine startled at his voice and nodded. “Yes.”
“Why don’t I take you to the hospital?”
“No! I have to go to Baca!”
“Baca? Look, you seem kinda out of it. Are you sure?”
The cab driver frowned and continued on his way, then let her out at Alexander’s address. Catherine gave him money, and, as she left, he shook his head disgustedly. “All the money in the world and she’s a druggie. Damn shame.”
Alexander was trying to force more liquid in her. She started to struggle with him as he led her forward. She fell to the ground and Alexander tied her hands behind her back. She continued to struggle, but she didn’t have the strength anymore and couldn’t fight him; the confusion in her mind was too strong. She didn’t realize her fear was bringing Vincent to her.
Alexander’s plan was to use Catherine to summon the demon Baca. He was going to sacrifice Catherine, and he began to cut away her clothing in preparation for Baca’s coming.
Suddenly, Vincent crashed through the ceiling of Alexander’s apartment. In the process, a bowl was knocked over and the contents spilled. A knocked-over candle started a fire.
Alexander looked at Vincent and dreamed his ritual was a success. Baca had come to him. He fearlessly approached Vincent and was struck down with a mighty blow. Vincent bent and untied Catherine’s hands. He lifted her now-unconscious form into his arms, then stood up and saw the altar. He kicked it over, spilling its contents.
Alexander got up from the floor and saw Catherine in Vincent’s arms. He dreamed that Vincent as Baca had taken Catherine as the sacrifice and instilled him with his special powers. Thinking he was invincible, he walked into the wall of flame and his body caught on fire. It killed him, and the spell over Catherine was broken.
Vincent carried Catherine out the back door of the building. Police sirens could be heard coming from every direction.
He set her gently down on the grass, then leaned over her. “Be well, Catherine,” he whispered before he took off and vanished into the night.
The neighbors had called the police. They arrived in time to capture Lindsey Gates. A few officers saw Vincent’s fleeing form, but the flames inside the building and the emergency of the situation stopped them from pursuing him. After running a few blocks, Vincent doubled back to try to see if Catherine was okay.
Bill Hopkins, one of her friends on the force, found Catherine first. He took off his jacket, wrapped it around her, then zipped it up. He carried her to his police cruiser before he called into the station.
“Dispatch, this is Hopkins.”
“Go ahead, Hopkins.”
“I need an ambulance sent ASAP.”
“One is already on the way.”
“Call Joe Maxwell, too, and tell him I said to get down here.”
Lindsey Gates was coughing from smoke as the police brought her from the burning building. She seemed to be aware of her surroundings as she looked over at Catherine, then up at Officer Hopkins “She’ll be okay. Give it twenty-four hours.”
Bill nodded to her as Lindsey was taken in for questioning.
Fireman raced inside and stopped the fire before it got any further than Ross’s apartment. The coroner was there, and a stretcher was wheeled out with the charred remains of Alexander.
Joe was at a nearby restaurant with a date that was going badly when he got the call. He came onto the scene and saw Bill Hopkins. “Hey, Bill. I got a message to come down here. What’s up?”
Bill walked over and motioned for Joe to follow him. “Cathy Chandler’s down here. Something wild happened here tonight. She’s in my car, Joe. I think she’s on drugs.”
Joe shook his head. “No way! She may be drugged, but it wasn’t by her own hand.”
Joe and Bill came up to the cruiser as Catherine was starting to stir.
Joe squatted down in front of her to look into her eyes. “Hey, kiddo...it’s Joe. You okay?”
Hidden in the bushes, Vincent watched as two men approached Catherine. One bent down and hovered in front of her. Vincent could tell that the man cared. He saw his face and realized it was the same man he had seen in Catherine’s hospital room after she had been shot by Mitch Denton.
He grimaced as Catherine lean forward and vomited all over the front of the man.
Joe flew to his feet. “Auughh!!!”
Catherine fell back and passed out again. Bill went around to his trunk and took out some towels and a plastic bag. In his other hand was a sweatshirt.
“Here, clean up and put your sweater in the bag. You can borrow my sweatshirt, but you’re on your own for pants.
Joe leaned forward and wiped the vomit off with the towel. He carefully pulled the sweater over his head and dumped it into the plastic bag. Luckily the bulk of Catherine’s stomach contents ended up on his shirt. There were only a few places on his pants and shoes. Joe wiped them off, and Bill handed him some wet naps to wash his hands with. Joe nodded gratefully.
He cleaned up and, as he put the sweatshirt on, looked over at Bill. “You call an ambu...” Joe stopped as he could see that down the street an ambulance was slowly making its way through traffic. It stopped, and Bill walked over to guide the EMTs to his cruiser.
Joe bent down again and reached for her hand. “Cathy, an ambulance is here.”
Catherine moaned and opened her eyes. “Joe?”
Joe smiled. “Yeah, Radcliffe, it’s me.”
The ambulance driver stepped in front of Joe. “Miss, my name is Carl. Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
Catherine’s head rolled from side to side. “Stomach hurts. Head hurts.”
Denny, the other ambulance driver, looked down. “Could be something she ate...”
Carl shrugged. “Wonder what it was.”
Joe looked up. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t much; she just vomited it all over me. You’re standing in some of it. Look, I’m Joe Maxwell. I’m the Assistant DA. This is one of my investigators. She may have been drugged. Take her in and get complete blood work done. I want to know what was slipped to her.”
Carl nodded, and they got a gurney and took Catherine away in the ambulance. Vincent left when he saw that she was safely taken care of and, on his way back, thought about which hospital she would be taken to and which helper he could call upon to get him information.
Joe extended his hand. “Thanks for calling me, Bill.”
Bill nodded. “Gonna follow the ambulance in?”
“Yeah, I need to find out what the hell happened here.”
Joe got to the hospital only to find that Catherine was off getting tests done. When she came back, she looked more aware of her surroundings.
“Joe, you’re here?”
“Yeah. How ya’ feeling?”
Catherine frowned. “Like I got hit by a bus.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
A tall, young man walked into the room and the two friends looked up. “Hi, I’m Dr. Bertucci.”
Joe stood and extended his hand. “Joe Maxwell, Assistant District Attorney. What’d you find out, Doc?”
Dr. Bertuccci’s eyebrows rose in surprise at Joe’s forcefulness. He looked over at Catherine who shrugged, then nodded her approval for him to speak freely. He looked down at his chart. “Well the complete blood work won’t be back until morning. None of the other tests we’ve done on you have shown anything, so I think it will be okay for you to go home tonight...that is unless you feel like you would rather stay here...”
Catherine shook her head immediately. “No, I’ll go home. Thank you!”
“Doc, I want that report as soon as you get it,” Joe asked again.
After getting Catherine’s consent, the doctor nodded. “I’ll see to your release papers, Miss Chandler.”
A nurse came in with a bag that contained Catherine’s dress. “Miss Chandler, the dress used to be beautiful, but the buttons at some point were cut off. There’s no way for you to close it. I have some safety pins, but I don’t know if they’ll hold.”
Catherine opened her bag and looked at the ruined dress. She thought about getting it fixed, but realized the damage was too extensive. With a sigh, she looked up. “I guess I can wear it home.”
Joe shrugged out of his borrowed sweatshirt. He had a long sleeved shirt on underneath it. “Here, this will cover your top.”
Catherine smiled ruefully. “Not quite the look I was going for, but thanks, Joe.”
Joe left to get his car and pull it around the front. The nurse left to get the release papers while Catherine changed quickly. Thankfully the sweatshirt was way too big and hung down almost to her knees. Catherine rolled up the sleeves, then shuffled out the door.
Joe walked up and chuckled at her. “You’re gorgeous, Radcliffe.”
Catherine sighed as the nurse hurried over with a wheel chair. “Hospital rules.”
Catherine smiled, then sat down. Joe took over and wheeled her out to his car. “Let’s go, Cath.”
“Joe, thanks for seeing me home.”
Joe helped her into his car and drove while she promptly fell asleep.
The doorman was surprised but relieved when he found out Catherine was okay. He helped Joe as he carried her up to her apartment.
Catherine woke briefly as Joe laid her on her bed and covered her up, but then quickly fell back asleep.
Joe smiled and shook his head. He sat for an hour, and when it began to turn light, he checked her pulse, then felt her head for any signs of a fever. Certain she was in a much needed deep sleep, he backed away. With a last glance around the apartment, he let himself out.
Vincent walked home. He felt Catherine’s feelings starting to return to normal. He was relieved that she had people around her who cared, and he wouldn’t go to her until he felt her need.
He shook his head at the frustration he felt upon seeing Joe taking care of her. He wished he could be in his shoes. He wished he could be the one in front of Catherine, helping her.
He gasped at the ugly feelings he had running though his mind. He had those feelings once before, when Catherine was dating Elliot Burch. He wondered why he only felt affection from Catherine in regards to Joe. She and Joe were obviously close, and Catherine had trusted him to take care of her.
Vincent walked through the entrance to the tunnels and made his way to the library.
Father looked up in concern. “You’ve been gone for awhile. Did you see Catherine?”
Vincent nodded. “I found her. I saved her from being sacrificed to a voodoo god,” he said sarcastically.
“The man she trusted was trying to summon a beast. He got me instead.”
Father groaned, believing what he thought was the outcome. “So you had to...”
Vincent knew Father thought he had killed again. “No, I lashed out at him, but he was fine. He must have been on drugs too; he thought he was invincible and walked through flames. He caught on fire and burned to death.”
“Dear God…and Catherine?”
“I untied her and carried her from the building. She was delirious, and I tried to take care of her, but the police had been called and were close by. I had to leave. I barely got away.”
Father nodded. “So you don’t know how she is?”
“I doubled back and hid in the bushes. I saw her with her friend Joe and another police officer. An ambulance was pulling up. I watched as they took her away.”
“Could you see her? Did she ever wake up?”
Vincent nodded. “She woke briefly, vomited on Joe, then fell back asleep.”
Father grimaced. “That’s probably from the side effects of the drugs.”
Vincent got up and began to pace the room. “I just wish there was a way for me to know that she’s okay.”
Father thought for a moment. “Why don’t you have Pascal contact Mario at the hospital? Perhaps he could find some information for you...”
Vincent smiled. “I already thought about that. I think I’ll do just that. Thank you, Father.”
Vincent left and two hours later returned. Father was in bed reading. “Father, sorry to disturb you, but I wanted to let you know Catherine has been sent home. She’s all right!”
Father smiled. He knew his son could go to sleep now. “Good, Vincent. I’m glad. Maybe now you can get some sleep.”
Vincent ignored him. “No, I’m heading to her apartment now.”
Vincent shrugged. “I need to see that she’s well.”
Father groaned. “And what if her friend Joe is still with her? What then? Are you planning on introducing yourself through the balcony doors?”
Vincent rolled his eyes. “Of course not. I just want to watch over her until morning.”
Father sighed and looked back at the pages of his book. “Yes, well, be careful!”
Vincent went to Catherine’s balcony and through the curtains watched her sleep. He smiled with relief when he saw that she was resting peacefully.
An hour before dawn, he headed back Below.
The next morning Catherine woke early with a splitting headache. The last thing she remembered was seeing her photo on a table at Alexander’s apartment and struggling.
Thoughts went through her head and bits of images flashed in her mind. She thought she remembered Vincent being there, then a fire, and Joe, and a hospital.
She sat up in bed and fought a wave of nausea. She needed to get to work and talk to Joe about Alexander.
She stumbled to the medicine cabinet and took out the aspirin, then thought better of it. She took a quick shower and started to leave her apartment, but the phone rang. She wondered who would call this early and decided to go with her hunch.
“Good morning, Joe.”
“Joe?! All right, that’s it! Who’s Joe and who the hell is Alexander?”
Catherine chuckled, then grimaced at the pain. “Good morning, Jenny.”
“Cathy, are you okay?”
“Jen, you won’t believe me if I tell you...”
“All right. I was drugged by a voodoo priest and almost sacrificed to a god last night.”
Jenny got really angry. “First you hang up on me, then you lie to me. If you don’t want to tell me what happened, don’t!”
Catherine rushed to defend herself. “I’m serious, Jen. I’ve even got the blood work being done to prove it. They think I was drugged by a voodoo priest who I thought was helping me in an investigation I was working on.”
“I wish. That’s why I was acting so crazy yesterday. By the way, the night before I had a hallucination and thought I was being attacked by spiders. I think that’s why your dream freaked me out. How do you do it?”
Jenny laughed. “I don’t know. Are you okay now?”
“Yeah, I am. I was at the hospital last night. They released me and my boss Joe brought me home.”
Jenny smiled. “That was nice.”
“Yeah. I’m going in to work for a while. I want to thank him.”
“Well, how about lunch in a couple of days...after you’ve rested up a bit?”
“Jenny, I’d love it. Thanks.”
“Okay. I’ll call you. Bye.”
Catherine hung up and headed to work.
She walked into her building and stopped by Edie’s desk on the way up.
Edie smiled as she stood up and gave her a hug. “Hey, girlfriend. You’re feeling better?”
Catherine smiled. “I am. Thanks. Edie. I’m sorry about the way I reacted...”
Edie waved her hand dismissively. “You weren’t yourself. I understand.”
Catherine furrowed her brow. “They think I may have been drugged, but I don’t know when it could have happened.”
Edie shrugged. “Girl, you need to watch who you trust. Sometimes the one you trust is the one who hurts you the most.”
Catherine should have thought of Alexander, but instead her thoughts flew to her treatment of Vincent. She turned to leave. “Yeah, thanks for caring enough to try to help.”
Edie laughed. “Who else could I get to buy me lunch?”
They giggled, and Catherine was still smiling when she walked into Joe’s office. “Hi, Joe.”
Catherine smiled weakly. “I’ve got a horrible headache, but it’s starting to pass. I came in because I need to tell you about Alexander Ross. I think he’s the one responsible for Hector Ocala’s death.”
Joe motioned to his chair. “Cathy, sit down.”
Knowing he had something to tell her, she sat. “What?”
“Alexander Ross is dead. He burned to death in the fire last night at his apartment.”
Catherine’s brow furrowed in concentration as Joe continued. “Police found pictures of Ocala, Coleman and you…They also found some kind of powder. It’s some type of a hallucinogenic. We think he may have given it to Coleman and Ocala and…by the way you were acting yesterday, I would say to you too.”
Catherine nodded. “I think you’re right, Joe. I said and did a lot of horrible things yesterday and I have some people to apologize to.”
“The labs results from your blood work will be back soon. We’ll know for sure then.”
“Joe, I’m sorry...”
Joe interrupted her. “No way, Radcliffe. You’re not apologizing to me…I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks, Edie pretty much said the same thing earlier. And thanks for your help last night.”
He nodded. “Yeah, well. If I had believed your story, maybe you wouldn’t have had to go this one alone.”
Catherine nodded, then grimaced as she looked at him. “I hate to ask this, but did I vomit on you?”
Joe laughed. “Yeah, you did. But with three nieces and nephews I’m used to it.”
She crinkled her nose in disgust. “Oh, no! Joe, I am so sorry.”
“What’s a little puke between friends,” Joe grinned then looked at her quizzically. “If you remember that, do you remember how you got out of that building?”
Catherine thought back and thought she remembered feeling Vincent’s arms around her. She wasn’t sure if it was real or a dream.
She looked at Joe and shrugged. “No, I don’t remember anything before the back of the police car.”
“Not a big deal. Just thought I’d ask.”
Later that day, Joe came to her desk and asked her if she was feeling better. He told her that Lindsey Gates told them all the names of Alexander Ross’s followers, and then she put herself in a poison coma. He told he was really proud of her for sticking with the investigation.
Joe got up to leave and turned around. “I suppose you want a break before you start on the Hutterly case again.”
Catherine smiled. “How about just until tomorrow?”
“Why don’t you head home and get some rest so you’re fresh for the morning,” Joe called out as he walked away.
Catherine took Joe up on his offer to leave early, and she came home and sank onto the bed. She sprawled out and was soon sound asleep.
Three hours later, she woke feeling much better and headed to the shower. She stood and let the warm water soothe her tired bones. If felt wonderful, and she waited until the water grew cold then hurried out, dried off and put a warm thick robe on over her lingerie set.
She dried her hair and, instead of fussing with it, tied it up on her head. She wanted to get out to the balcony. She wanted to be out there waiting for him if he came.
She sat waiting, praying he would come to her. She had so much to say to him. She wondered if he would forgive her. She had said some pretty horrible things to him. Things she would normally never say, never think, never feel. She knew she had hurt him badly with her distrust of him. She remembered actually backing away from him in fear. She remembered his face, the look in his eyes when she told him she hated him and to go away. Would he believe her when she told him she was drugged? Would he know how horrible she felt about her behavior?
She looked at the shell in her hands. How could something so small and so beautiful hold that much power over someone’s mind?
Vincent was drawn by the turmoil Catherine was feeling and landed silently on the balcony. He watched her holding the shell. He was feeling every one of her feelings flowing through him: sorrow, shame, regret, and love. He bent to take the shell from her hands.
Surprised and thankful he had come to her, she grabbed onto his wrist and rose to stand in front of him. She looked deep into his eyes and saw only love and acceptance. Wordlessly, he took the shell in his hand, and they watched as he crushed it to a powder. He threw the dust out behind him and never looked back.
Catherine looked up at him again. She stared into his eyes as she moved forward and slowly put her arms around his waist, laying her head on his chest, her head fitting perfectly under his chin. He closed his arms around her and then closed his eyes, relishing the feel of her in his arms. They stayed that way for a long time.
Vincent felt her trembling. He pulled her closer and still she shook. Finally he broke the silence. “Catherine, are you cold?”
Filled with relief that he had come to her and realizing how lucky she was, she began to cry. In answer to his question, she shook her head and buried closer to him. He held her tightly for a while longer until she sniffled and he realized she was crying.
He was shocked and couldn’t figure out why she was crying. He ran his hand caressingly up and down her back. “Catherine, please! Tell me!”
Catherine pulled away and looked at him, pleading he would understand. “Vincent I am so…”
Vincent shook his head as he anticipated what she was going to say. “No, Catherine! Don’t, there is no need….”
Catherine looked at him incredulously. “No need! Vincent I …”
Vincent tried to comfort her. “Shhhhh, Catherine anything you can say to me I already know. All of this is best forgotten.”
She smiled at him, thankful he had forgiven her and grateful he was here with her. “Thank you.” She turned and looked out into the city. “I can’t describe how lost I felt without you.”
“It was the drug, Catherine. I could still feel you; you weren’t lost to me.”
“I was lost to myself. It seemed like I was…outside myself. I knew that my friends were near: Edie and Joe, Jenny...” She looked over at him. “...You.”
He came close again and finished her thought. “But something in your mind told you not to trust.”
Catherine nodded. “Yes…I said some outlandish things to Joe and Edie that I immediately regretted...and I said some very hurtful things to you...”
Vincent hung his head, remembering the things she said.
“Vincent, please believe me when I say that I don’t hate you. I love...that you’re a part of my life. I value what we have over anything else in my life. I don’t ever want to lose that.”
Vincent touched her arm. “You won’t, Catherine.”
She nodded and looked at him curiously. “Vincent, how did you know I was drugged?”
He shrugged and turned back to look out at the city. “All the signs pointed to it. You were hallucinating, and the things you were feeling were horrific. I tried to read everything I could about voodoo, but it wasn’t enough. There is a woman Below who lives apart from us. She lives and moves within the spirit world. I went to her for advice.”
Catherine smiled gratefully. “You did?”
“She told me she felt you were being controlled by powder, and she knew you were bound by a powerful magic to that shell.”
“I was bound to it.”
“Father agreed with the powder being a drug...”
“You told Father?”
“He wanted to help. He said if you were drugged that would explain the hallucinations.”
“All of that is good, Vincent. But you knew, I mean really knew...even when I tried to shove you away, you knew I needed help. How?”
“You were calling out for it. Even when you didn’t trust me. Like on the balcony last night, I came to you and you reached out to me. I could feel it deep within you. You were lost and needed my help.”
“And you were there for me. You carried me from the fire, didn’t you?” He nodded and she continued. “Vincent, what really happened last night?”
He sighed and turned to her. “I overheard your phone conversation. I heard you repeat an address. When I got there you were tied up but struggling against the bonds. I came through a window and knocked Alexander out of the way. He fell back, and I untied you and lifted you up. A bowl of something spilled and its contents caught on fire. Alexander must have been drugged as well…he thought I had bestowed some type of power on him. He said he couldn’t be hurt by fire and walked right into the flames.”
Catherine nodded. “And caught on fire, then burned to death. You saved my life, Vincent.” She saw that he looked down and wondered why he seemed...ashamed. “Vincent, what is it?”
“I...carried you outside. The police were so close. I wanted to bring you home, but I couldn’t risk being caught. I had to lay you down...”
Catherine touched his arm. “Oh, Vincent. You did the right thing. I was safe.”
“I know. I only wish I could’ve stayed and taken care of you. I doubled back and hid in the shadows. I saw a policeman take care of you, and later another man came and helped you.”
Catherine nodded. “That was Joe. He’s my boss and a friend. He helped me out and brought me home.” She chuckled. “You should be glad it wasn’t you. I vomited on him.”
He smiled shyly. “I saw.”
Sure she had made a lovely picture, Catherine grimaced. “The hospital did blood work. I was, in fact, drugged, but I’ll be fine by tomorrow, and in a few weeks it will all be gone from my system.”
“Perhaps you should get some sleep.”
“Vincent, I just woke up...” Catherine realized he may have other plans. “But if you have something else...”
Vincent shook his head. “No, Catherine. I told Father I would be sitting with you.”
Catherine smiled. “So you can stay for awhile longer?”
“I can stay as long as you’d like.”
Catherine ran to her doorway and quickly got two blankets. Vincent looked at her quizzically, but helped her spread one out on the ground.
He sat and watched as she sat down right next to him. She covered up with the blanket and made sure he was covered as well.
“Catherine, do you have something you’d like me to read to you.”
Catherine shook her head then leaned forward and faced him. “Vincent?”
He nodded and she sank down next to him. She lifted his arm and put it around her shoulders, then snuggled against him. Vincent quietly recited poems from memory, and it wasn’t long before Catherine fell asleep.
He listened to the even pattern of her breathing and relished in the feeling that things were back to normal.